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Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: Frank

Typically identified as the "movie where Michael Fassbender wears a giant fake head", Frank is based on a stage persona created and portrayed by departed British comedian Chris Sievey. His former band-mate, Jon Ronson, wrote about his experiences on stage with Sievey, a memoir which was then turned into a film that turns Sievey's fairly over the top and aimed at humor Frank Sidebottom into the Daniel Johnston/Captain Beefheart-esque Frank. While the majority of the running time plays for laughs, there's a deadly seriousness under the veneer, as portrayed by Fassbender.

The central figure of the tale is Domhnall Gleeson's Jon (based on the above-mentioned Ronson) a singer-songwriter whose tune-smithing tends to aim toward the banal. After a chance encounter at a quarry, he meets a band in need of a new keyboardist, which ropes him into a gig with an avant garde quartet called Soronprfbs, fronted by the enigmatic Frank. Wearing a giant head which he never removes, that looks like a cross between the old Big Boy hamburger chain figure and radically warped Ken doll face, Frank is the mastermind behind this unpronounceable (by the audience and everyone on screen) band, leading the newly minted five piece to a remote cabin in Ireland to record an album. In the midst of the music experimentation, or chaos to some, Jon gets the idea to archive their sessions on Youtube. This action leads them to some level of notoriety, SXSW, and a not insignificant level of personal strife. 

What sticks out most when watching Frank is its somewhat unexpected tone. Given the type of subject matter we're dealing with, and the level of intensity that Michael Fassbender consistently brings to his performances, you'd be surprised at how light and frothy everything is for the majority of the run-time. Three-fourths of the film is drug along by Gleeson's narration, and each bit of internal dialogue is punctuated for maximum humor. It's not that it's necessarily all that funny a film, but more that its attempts to highlight just how wacky everything going on around Jon is in comparison to his relative normal-ness. Scenes of Frank and his fellow bandmates (one of which is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal) recording random objects scraping onto other objects with their titular front-man stating that they should record an entire album of just these sounds in such a jovial manner underscores the somewhat aghast look that the film casts upon these aural misfits.

Then, in the last 20 minutes or so, everything changes. Due a circumstance that builds throughout the first two acts, we finally get an opportunity to see beneath Frank's mask and its actually quite terrifying, but not in a Lon Cheney-The Phantom of the Opera way. Instead, Lenny Abrahamson pulls a massive bait and switch on the audience in the film's swan song that focuses on mental illness and just how randomized its diagnosis can be. There's a powerful message brought to bear when we see scenes of Frank's parents discussing the typically normal childhood that he experienced. It wasn't drugs or abuse that brought on the difficulties that Frank faces on a daily basis, its just something that happened one day, and our lack of understanding of mental illness quickly becomes the point. The final moments are both triumphant and heartbreaking at the same time. It's a feeling unlike any I can recall in recent cinema-going experiences. Then again, when taken on the whole, I could say that about the entire exercise that Abrahamson has crafted.

The fact that this kind of transformative effect is so wonderfully accomplished gives way, or is a consequence of, a tremendous performance from Fassbender. With his leading man features obscured 95% of the time and relaying his dialogue in a vague mid-western accent, it might come as some surprise to viewers that the Oscar Nominated Actor is even in the film. His essaying of the character is  wonderfully eccentric and a step into the slightly surreal, a bit aghast from his typical wheelhouse, but at the same time equally as impassioned. I can't remember anytime the Irish actor made me laugh this hard from his dialogue choices, if ever, but such an occurrence came to bear here.

Frank isn't perfect, having a few sags that, even once you understand the sleight of hand, are still noticeable. At the same time, it's one of the more uniquely enjoyable films I've seen this year that dig beyond just the base pleasures. There's just something there I can't shake, particularly from its final poignant scene. The word that comes to mind is resonance.

For our Atlanta based readers, Frank will be opening at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema this weekend.
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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: The Trip to Italy


I saw 2010's The Trip on a whim, with no expectations, several years ago. It's a movie that has enough quote-worthy moments that I still reference it years later, but if you asked me to explain the plot, I couldn't tell you more than "Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon eat at English restaurants, do impressions and act random." That's the beauty of the movie, really; there's very little plot threading together a series of hilarious and organic moments between two comedians, the most famous of which you can see here.

This year's follow-up film, The Trip to Italy, was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. I'm not sure if it's because I expected so much this time, where I'd previously expected so little, but I can certainly say this is not a movie you should long for for the better part of a year unless you're prepared to be disappointed.

The Trip to Italy picks up presumably a few years after the first film, with Coogan and Byrdon once again playing loose versions of themselves. They've been asked to do another series of restaurant reviews, this time in Italy. Were this film like its predecessor, the bulk of the plot would stop there. Unfortunately the sequel attempts a slightly meatier plot, and instead of anchoring the film with Coogan - who is much closer to the proverbial "straight man" of the two - the plot is anchored with Brydon, an actor I much prefer in smaller doses.

Brydon's impressions were hilarious in The Trip, and while I'm a sucker for his man in the box every time, I felt his impressions grating on me about halfway through this film. There were still funny moments - some of which I'd unfortunately already seen in the previews - but I walked out of the film feeling like I'd missed any quintessential "Gentlemen, To Bed" clips that I'd seen in the first. Overall it seems like The Trip to Italy was served to the audience stale. It failed to explore any new jokes or territory, and spent most of the time repeating jokes we'd already seen.

The major improvement of this film over its predecessor is in the food. It's not a stretch to say that Italian food is much easier to present in a mouth-watering way than traditional English food, and The Trip to Italy serves up dish after dish of carb-laden food porn. The suggestion was so powerful that I found myself at an Italian restaurant only 20 minutes after the film was over, filling my belly with homemade pasta at 10:30 p.m.

And in spite of my preference for the first film's looser plot and structure, the film made some interesting comparisons between Brydon and Coogan's career. We see Brydon going through the fits and starts of his blossoming American career, as well as the impact his lifestyle is beginning to have on his relationship with his wife and daughter, while Coogan is shrugging off and leaving behind the L.A. lifestyle (though not entirely voluntarily) in an attempt to be closer to home.

Coogan and Brydon make some comments about how unnecessary and unsuccessful most sequel films are, and while this isn't a bad movie, it definitely falls short of its predecessor. If you've not seen either, I would skip The Trip to Italy and watch The Trip streaming on Netflix instead.

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Rila Fukushima Replaces Devin Aoki On 'Arrow'

It seems like last minute recasting is becoming a regular occurrence with these DC on TV properties. First came the major Constantine overhaul last month of its female lead, and now Arrow is getting in on the game.

Rila Fukushima, who you may know better from her role as Yukio in The Wolverine, will be joining the cast of Arrow as Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana. In the series, Katana will be one of Oliver's mentors in flashback sequences that will clearly find a way to impact the present day, as they are wont to do on that show.

Fukushima replaces Devin Aoki who had to leave the series due to scheduling issues. The third season of Arrow will debut on October 8.

Source: Deadline
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The GeekRex Comic Buyer's Guide (8/27/14)


We know walking into your local comic shop or browsing the new titles on Comixology can be harrowing, particularly with the rising prices of comics. The GeekRex team feels your pain, so that's why each week two members of our team will collaborate and highlight the "must-buys" of every Wednesday, and we'll make sure we keep the tab under 20 bucks. Props to MultiversityComics for coming up with the great idea–we hope you like our spin on it!

This Week's Team: Cal & Shane







All-Star Western #34 - $3.99 - Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti found success in the most unlikely of places with Jonah Hex, a long-running DC title rebooted with the New 52 into All-Star Western, which similarly outlasted a good number of more typically commercial books.  But with All-Star Western #34, their series finally comes to an end.  So say your good-byes while you can... and, in the meantime, enjoy the fact that it comes with Darwyn Cooke on art.












Silver Surfer #5 - $3.99 - Enjoy our discussion of Doctor Who here on GeekRex this week?   Wishing there were more of the series to enjoy?  A lot of people use the fact that Dan Slott and Mike Allred's Silver Surfer is riffing on the same themes and styles that has defined Doctor Who for the last decade, but when a book is this much fun, who cares if it isn't what the character normally does?















Wayward #1 - $3.50 - Jim Zub's Skullkickers may have gotten off to a bit of a rough start, but it figured itself out eventually, and Zub's career began to take off just as it did.  Now, Zub adds a second book to the Image library with Wayward #1.  And, hey, it may be ad copy, but billing itself as a series trying to combine Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Hellboy is a great way to pique my interest.





Saga #22 - $2.99 - What's there to say about this comic that hasn't been said by one of us here time and again?  Saga continues to amaze in its ability to find new places to take what could have been a very simple story and develop its characters in ways that feel natural as well as unexpected.  The recent time jump also helped things out quite a bit.  Oh yeah, and Fiona Staples' art continues to be some of the best on the market.










Original Sin Thor & Loki: The Tenth Realm #4 - $3.99 - Original Sin wraps up next week, and, though it has not been the continuity mixer-upper that Axis promises to be, it has certainly made for some of the best tie-ins for a summer event Marvel has possibly ever had.  This week sees the continuation of Loki and Thor's exploration of The Tenth Realm, which continues to throw both expected and unexpected twists our way.




Total Price: $18.46


Pick of the Week


by Jim Starlin

Curious about Marvel's big Cinematic Universe baddie, Thanos?  Warlock: The Complete Collection features the work of Jim Starlin, the man who defined Thanos for decades (and who continues to do so in Marvel's recent OGN, Thanos: The Infinity Revelation) and includes some of the character's biggest early stories.  But it isn't about Thanos; the series follows the grand cosmic adventures of Adam Warlock, one of Marvel's oddest cosmic characters.  While it's a bit clunky in the offset, once he gets going, Starlin's take on cosmic comics was to be exceeded only by Jack Kirby's legendary Fourth World cycle.  Big, weird, and deeply personal, the Warlock stories are a blast, particularly for readers unaccustomed to the more sanded down brands these characters would come to represent.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 62: 'Doctor Who' Premiere and Multiversity #1

Doctor Who has returned, and this week our full team unites to chat about "Deep Breath", the debut of Peter Capaldi's turn as The Doctor. What worked about this start of the Eighth Series and where are there areas of concern?
This is the start of a weekly check-in with our team and the series, so stayed tuned!

In our second segment, we chat about the first issue of Grant Morrison's long awaited Multiversity and we all fall into the Bleed and the Orrery of Worlds!

Music:
New Doctor Who Theme
"I am the Doctor" - Murray Gold
"Emergency on Planet Earth" - Jamiroquai

You can listen to the latest episode of the GeekRex podcast on the player below, on iTunes, or on our Podomatic page.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 36

Outcast #3
by Paul Azaceta

Love the minimalist shading but the subtle line work, certainly an eye-catching one!

  Sundowners #1
by Chris Brunner

Creepy design with some excellent coloring!

  Sex #15
by Piotr Kowalski

I love that Sex continues to do the wraparound covers, and this one is one of the most fun.

  Transformers vs G.I. Joe #2
by Ed Piskor

Speaking of fun, how great is Piskor? I love the color palette here, has sort of a vintage feel.

  Letter 44 #9
by Alberto Albuquerque

This cover's got great depth, and the light thrown off by the giant, flaming laser makes for a menacing view.

  Wayward #1
by Alina Urusov

Gorgeously smooth and beautifully colored and feels appropriately Japanese.

Wayward #1
by Steven Cummings, Ross Campbell

...But I also love the main cover, with an awesome horror feel and great perspective!


That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!  
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review: Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

2005 was a long time ago. I recall the excitement of seeing the first Sin City when I was headed into my final year of college. The visual splendor and source material fidelity on display by Robert Rodriguez produced, arguably, one of the finest comic book based films ever. Whispers of a sequel have abounded since. After multiple production delays (and likely some writing ones on Co-Director Frank Miller's part) and casting issues (Rodriguez literally waited on Angelina Jolie to take a role in the production), Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is real and it exists. It's also been completely drug through the critical dirt these past few days, and is currently bombing with audiences in a theater near you (its projected tally for its opening weekend sits at around 7 million dollars). For the latter, the numerous delays may have killed any and all goodwill left over from almost a decade ago, but is this all too tardy sequel as bad as you've heard?

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is basically a triptych akin to its predecessor, and rather than the narrative diverging paths that the first film delved into, A Dame To Kill For aims for the Godfather II approach, acting as both prequel and sequel. For the most part, these stories feel like the B-Sides to the generally superior Miller yarns that appeared in the first film. The sense of agency among its key players have diminished, and the narrative thread that holds these stories together is non-existent. That doesn't mean there aren't singular pleasures to be derived from this new entry, but the exercise is akin to the someone taking outtakes and making an entire film from those remainders.

Of the three offerings that Rodriguez and Miller have crafted, the two stories involving the dirtbag Senator Rourke (Powers Boothe) work best because of the feeling of newness that surrounds those tales. Taking place basically after everything else in the first film (short of Marv's tale), the tales of Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Nancy (Jessica Alba) provide some narrative clarity and closure that was lacking in the first film and thusly become a bit more essential and satisfying because of the role they provide. When we see Johnny beating Senator Rourke in a poker game and the eventual fall-out that occurs from that action, we now understand the level of malevolence that Senator Rourke himself is capable of beyond trying to just protect his pedophile son.

All of this is of course helped by the fact that Boothe provides the best performance in the entire film, chewing the scenery with real gusto and along with Gordon-Levitt, being among the few players that actively elevate the material. I'd go so far to argue that this particular plot-thread is actively the equal of the best stories of the previous entry. "The Long Bad Night", as its called, continues the series theme of a city itself being able to actively ruin lives just by walking into its borders. "The Long Bad Night" would have made a great short film on its own and is the one real triumph on display here.

Nancy's tale, entitled "Nancy's Last Dance" is a bit less essential, as it could be easily argued there was no need to retain any sense of narrative closure after the death of "the only man she ever loved" Hartigan (Bruce Willis). But the general sense of uncertainty for Nancy's safety, and the fact that this is the only arc in the entire series that features a female in any sort of leading role, gives it a value that surpasses the lesser title story that soaks up so much of the running time. Alba isn't overly impressive, but she does nothing to really sink the proceedings, and again Boothe strikes a cutting figure of malevolence and a figure to root against. Willis appears as a ghostly visage throughout, the idea of which strikes at a fairly typical noir trope of the visions of love lost. The general brevity of both of these stories and their sense of occurring at or around the same time gives off a nice side-quel type quality, fleshing out edges of Basin City effectively.

Where Sin City: A Dame To Kill For goes terribly wrong is in its title story, which is the only one based off of a currently existing Sin City comic. Focusing on Dwight (played by Clive Owen in the first film, and now Josh Brolin) and his being pulled back into his violent past by ex-lover Ava (Eva Green), which then puts him squarely at odds with Manute, her hulking chauffeur (Dennis Haysbert, taking over after Michael Clarke Duncan's death). Almost everything this sequence is a misfire. Brolin's performance as Dwight is completely at odds with Owen's and sadly inferior, possessing none of the natural gravitas that Owen brought to the role. This end of the film also suffers from the standard "prequel problems", in that we know Dwight is going to end out on top, cutting out basically any of the dramatic tension. Of course, perhaps you may be interested in how Manute lost his eye or how Brolin-Dwight becomes Owen-Dwight (in a development that is sadly pretty laughable in terms of presentation), but it doesn't add up to compelling cinema on-screen. All the beats of the previous film feel repeated; from Dwight and Manute clashing to the Old Town Girls (lead by Rosario Dawson's Gail) getting involved in the fray, but when this conflict has already been seen to its close, the question becomes what point this story even holds anymore. Green does her darndest to liven everything up with a vampy performance that you'd expect from a classic Femme Fatale, but even she gets embroiled in the general hum-drum with a subplot about a police detective (played by Christopher Meloni) that should have found its way to the cutting room floor.

Marv (Mickey Rourke) also appears, which is no surprise given that he was THE breakout character of Sin City and the role that arguably reinvigorated this former Oscar winner's career. Sadly, Marv gets little to do throughout, beyond killing and gawking at Nancy's dancing from the his seat at the bar. He makes perfunctory appearances in each story, serving the exact same role in two of them and appearing annoyingly in Johnny's tale for no reason at all. Marv no longer feels like the sad palooka that we were treated to in 2005, instead he's basically The Punisher now, dealing out justice anywhere he sees fit whether it adds up logically or not. Marv isn't down on his luck anymore so much as he's just up in your business. Sure, there's something thrilling about watching he and Manute duke it out, but it's probably the only worthwhile moment the character gets the entire film. Much like the return visit to Dwight and Gail, this revisit to our favorite bruiser proves that oftentimes its better to leave well enough alone.

Some might argue that could be the lesson learned here for the entire exercise that is Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, but for those who fell under the spell of Rodriguez's visual panache and Miller's hard-boiled storytelling oh so long ago will find at least half a film that's worth watching, and another half that while flawed never quite reaches the lows of this year's other Miller-inspired, Eva Green led sequel 300: Rise Of An Empire. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For isn't must see viewing, but its a return trip that's probably better than you've heard.
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Review: Doctor Who, "Deep Breath" (e.g. The Trouble with Dinosaurs)


Doctor Who's eighth series premiere cemented several facts I had previously suspected to be true: 

1. Peter Capaldi will make an excellent doctor
2. The sexual tension between The Doctor and his companion has ended 
3. And most important of all: Doctor Who can't do dinosaurs justice

I felt unsettled by the first 20 or 25 minutes of "Deep Breath". Initially I chalked to up to a combination of factors: new (and confused, and out of it) doctor, Scottish accent, more slapstick humor (which I mostly enjoyed), etc. Those things might have jarred me a bit, but when I re-watched the episode I realized what was actually bugging me: the plot. 

More specifically: WHY WAS THERE A DINOSAUR? WHY?

Hear me out. This was actually a pretty good episode, and I have plenty of praise to offer regarding character development. But in reflection, I have no idea why we needed to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex get sucked into Victorian England, only to die in an apparent act of spontaneous combustion shortly after. The Doctor immediately focuses on what other similar murders have happened recently, and then the story quite suddenly pivots to become a spooky, cyberpunk-y tale of androids harvesting human body parts in order to rebuild themselves. This all worked for me, even if it was a bit standard Doctor Who fodder. I wish they would have streamlined the plot by focusing on all of the humans who are spontaneously combusting from the start and skipped the entire "oh my god there's a dinosaur in London" nonsense, which at the end of the day felt like a simple spectacle for episode promos. I won't get started on my feelings for "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship", but let's leave it at this: unless you can do them in a way that isn't a gimmick, please leave dinosaurs out of it, guys.    

The scene where I finally felt like the episode was on track occurs when Clara walks in on Madame Vastra admiring Jenny/working on the murder mystery and announces that she's found a clue to finding The Doctor in the newspaper. The trio puzzle over the meaning of the ad, and then we segway into one of the most simple and well-done dialogues between The Doctor and his companions I've seen in a long time as they sit down to lunch. 

Though there's a large faction of Whovians who are opposed to Moffat's complex story arcs, I've enjoyed them on the whole. Where I think the Moffat era falls down is on establishing credible characters in The Doctor's companions. Amy and Rory were acceptably fleshed out, for the most part, but River Song and Clara have only functioned as plot devices. Their entire reason for being and personalities have centered around The Doctor. So it was refreshing to actually learn a bit about Clara in this episode. Apparently she's a control freak with a bit of an ego (remind you of anyone?) and has a thing for Marcus Aurelius. I also appreciated Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax more than I ever have before, and thought including them in this transition episode was a smart choice.

Mostly, though, this episode worked best for me on a very meta level. I felt like I was, as an audience member, having a thoughtful dialogue with Steven Moffat himself. This conversation started with Madame Vastra's haughty speech to Clara about The Doctor's face. He's always looked young and pretty - who was that for? It was for you. It was for you, the viewer, who the BBC believed couldn't be interested in a Doctor unless he was handsome and clever and had a sense of boyish charm. He is an alien, and he is old, but the audience can accept him as our hero and even relate to him if he's wrapped up in the right sort of package. It worked so well with David Tennant, and then again with Matt Smith. This season breaks the mold and attempts to remove The Doctor's status as a flirty sex symbol without losing its target demographic. I'm certain we'll have some sexy new companions to fill that void, soon, anyway.  

This conversation picks back up at the end of the episode, when Clara receives a call from Matt Smith's doctor, who pleads with her to stay with this gruff new man in front of her. Capaldi's doctor lets Clara know he remembers the call - that he made the call - and asks her to see him for who he really is. There is so much media hype and attention surrounding the departure of an actor as The Doctor and the onboarding of a new actor, it's sometimes hard to remember that at the end of the day we are supposed to see this single, unending character as a through-line for the entire show. Eccleston to Tennant treated it as a fairly straightforward physical transformation, but Tennant to Smith was a massive event that the writers treated like the death of a character. This was partially because his run was longer and partially because the showrunner was changing hands, which certainly is more like the death of the character we knew. This time, though, I don't think Moffat wanted us to feel that way. 

Shuffling back to the plot end of things, I liked the call-back to "The Girl in the Fireplace" and am already frantically googling plot synopses of past episodes to predict where this season is going, particularly in regards to "The Promised Land" and the creepy woman we see in the final scene. There were some interesting religious themes here that I'm almost afraid to see the show explore (and honestly, they probably won't) in future episodes. More interesting, though, was the question: Did The Doctor push the android? Even if he told him he had to die and convinced him to jump instead, is that really any better than using his own hands? 

Part of me really wants to know The Doctor pushed him. That he was willing to sacrifice one life to save many, and that his rules aren't black and white. I'm not sure if this show has that courage. Still, when The Doctor tells the android that one of them has lied about their basic programming, all I could think about was a motif we saw throughout Matt Smith's run. 

The Doctor Lies.  

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The GeekRex Podcast Episode 61: 'The Wrenchies' with Farel Dalrymple


This week, I got the chance to talk with Farel Dalrymple about his recently released graphic novel The Wrenchies, along with Prophet and the other super cool stuff he's got coming up!

Music in this episode:
Mr. Bungle - "Golem II: The Bionic Vapour Boy" (California)
Disasterpeace - "Adventure" (FEZ OST)


You can listen to the latest episode of the GeekRex Podcast on the player below, on Podomatic, or subscribe on iTunes (and please, rate away!)



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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The GeekRex Comic Buyer's Guide (8/20/14)

We know walking into your local comic shop or browsing the new titles on Comixology can be harrowing, particularly with the rising prices of comics. The GeekRex team feels your pain, so that's why each week two members of our team will collaborate and highlight the "must-buys" of  every Wednesday, and we'll make sure we keep the tab under 20 bucks. Props to Multiversity Comics for coming up with the great idea–we hope you like our spin on it!

This Week's Team: Harper and Kyle





 
The Multiversity #1 - $4.99 - We've only talked about it ridiculously at length on the site for weeks, so to say that this first issue is highly anticipated is an understatement. The map analysis that this team worked up may finally see a few answers and we'll also get a team-up of President Superman with Captain Carrot, along with some of the other great super-heroes of DC Multiverse. This project is the sequel to Final Crisis that we've waited years for and it's also a series that, according to Morrison, is going to create the world's first real-life superhero. We plan to savor every single panel.

 





The Fade Out #1 - $3.50 - Right there with Morrison in our eyes is the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, whose Fatale, Criminal, Sleeper (and to a lesser extent, Incognito) have produced the best noir based comics you'll find anywhere. The Fade Out is the latest in their extraordinary output. 1948. A film starlet's suspicious death. Post War Boom Hollywood. It sounds like their answer to Satellite Sam in a way. It's a must buy and the only competition here is what will get read first between this and the previous entry.
 




The Wicked & The Divine #3 - $3.50 - You know it's a great week when a Kieron Gillen-Jamie McKelvie - Matt Wilson is kind of an after-thought in our weekly pull. Calling it as such though is a real disservice, as the first two issues of this series have produced some of the most exciting comic storytelling of 2014. The Wicked & The Divine is pure comic pop-craft and absolute candy for the eyes. A blend of David Bowie with World Mythology, how can it get much more exciting than that? This issue will also hopefully provide an answer to last month's tantalizing mystery end.


 


Sensation Comics feat. Wonder Woman #1 - $3.99 - We've been praising DC's digital first comics for quite a while now, and they're finally completing the triumvirate by adding Wonder Woman to the lineup. This anthology series is kicking off with some great creators, including Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver. We'll get a tale of Diana tackling some crime in Gotham City as well as meeting her biggest fan. Here's to hoping great Wonder Woman stories can continue here with the legendary Azzarello/Chiang run coming to an end!




 



Supreme Blue Rose #2 - $2.99 - Warren Ellis is making a major return to the stage, with his short run of Moon Knight at Marvel and Trees at Image making a big splash, but the first issue of Supreme Blue Rose that came out a few weeks ago was especially intriguing. Lotay's art is dreamlike and beautiful, and the premise of a down and out journalist being hired for an ungodly sum to research the existence of Supreme, one of the original Image superheroes, is mysterious and thrilling.




Total Price: $18.97

 

Pick of the Week
 Winter Soldier: The Bitter March
by Rick Remender and Roland Boschi

We reviewed the single issues of this miniseries very favorably as they were coming out, and we'd highly recommend checking out the trade that comes out this Wednesday at your local comic shop (out 9/2 on Amazon). Remender weaves a tightly knit tale of tricky moral situations in a mod cold war spy story. It's full of uber-fun set ups, intense action sequences, and a great back story for ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Ran Shen. Perhaps even more exciting is Boshi's fantastic art. It's set firmly in a 60's spy style that is rarely seen, and is an absolute joy to behold. There's so much more to this story than it's lovely stylish exterior though, and its dark moral trappings will hold up to multiple readings. A great companion piece if you saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier and are looking for more!
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Monday, August 18, 2014

Best Covers of the Week, Vol. 35

Little Nemo Returns to Slumberland #1
by Gabriel Rodriguez

Rodriguez pulls this one off with great color and wonderful dream-like detail, and there's a really nice sense of slow motion movement here, too.

  Supreme Blue Rose #2
by Tula Lotay

Gorgeous character work here, and the mysterious design elements only make her (and the story) more intriguing.

  Sensation Comics feat. Wonder Woman #1
by Phil Jimenez

Relatively standard superhero fare, yes, but an excellent representation of a character with an abundance of history and different styles.

Manifest Destiny #9
by Matthew Roberts

Creates an atmosphere perfect for the series, one of danger and violence hiding right beneath the beauty of nature.

    Multiversity #1
by Chris Burnham

I know, it's an overdone idea, but I love the logo as it's changed here and the careful coloring to match the time period. Plus, who doesn't love the frightened cat in plaid?

  The Fade Out #1 (Magazine Format)
by Sean Phillips and Elizabeth Breitweiser

Really, really fantastic work here to recreate old magazine serials, from the ultra-smooth pencil work to the excellent typography and design.

  Trees #4
by Jason Howard

Simple but effective. I like that the black is not just a matte color, there's some little ornate details in there that add a layer of depth.

  Dark Horse Presents #1
by Geof Darrow

And of course, who doesn't enjoy a good Geof Darrow giant hideous monster from time to time?



That's it for this week. What did I miss? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook!  
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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: Magic in the Moonlight


Woody Allen has made a ton of movies, and a lot of them are damn good. He goes through phases: the super silly comedies, the comedic dramas, the psychological dramas, and most recently, the European city romances. This newest set of films has been a bit hit or miss: while Vicky Christina Barcelona and Midnight in Paris were great fun, To Rome with Love and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger were just so-so. He seems to have dropped his muse in Scarlett Johansson and may be looking for a new one...so does Emma Stone (or Colin Firth) fill that role?

Magic in the Moonlight has a fairly simple premise: Stanley (Colin Firth) is a famed magician who performs under the disguise of an Asian mystic, but is an egomaniac and a debunker of any kind of real magic in the world. He is brought on to reveal Sophie (Emma Stone), a supposed telepath and communer with the dead, as a fraud, but gradually comes to believe in her impossible feats. Things, of course, get more complicated as the two find themselves having feelings for each other as Stanley's view on life begins to change.



The premise is a very good one, a classic way to pit two competing philosophies against each other to see what happens. There are some really clever moments, and Allen doesn't sugarcoat the magic aspect while the audience is still trying to figure it out, so we really come to believe as naturally as Stanley does. He is fascinated and enamored with Sophie, but only under the pretension that her supernatural talents have changed his worldview–he sees her as an object of wonder rather than a human being, at least at first. The best bits come from Firth's comedic delivery and reluctance to admit his irrational feelings for Sophie; when she asks if he finds her attractive apart from her wondrous talents, he replies quickly that, in the right light, only sometimes, she looks alright. Colin Firth is charmingly obnoxious as he refuses to believe, and he fits in the world of southern France in 1928.



Unfortunately, those comedic bits, which are the true highlight of the film, are relatively sparse. Mostly we focus on Stanley's back and forth beliefs, and little happens in the second act of the film that's worth spending 2/3 of the movie on. The resolution comes very suddenly and feels rushed. And that would be fine–and fitting with some of Allen's best films–if the second act romance had a little more chemistry and a lot more pizazz. 



As many have already commented, having a romance between a young girl and a man literally more than twice her age is not off to a believable start. The chemistry between Firth and Stone is just not really there, partly due to the lack of character development for Sophie in the script and partly due to Stone's out of place performance. Maybe she's just too prevalent in recent movies to be truly believable as a girl in the 1920's, but there's just something that doesn't jibe. It's almost like the movie itself doesn't really believe in the romance, as it kicks in quite suddenly and late with just a little prodding from the plot.

Overall, it's a decent movie that fits in with Woody Allen's recent ones: it's an interesting time period in an interesting locale with an interesting plot, but with a somewhat lackluster casting choice and some narrative pacing issues. But perhaps I'm being too harsh simply because of the backlog of truly terrific films by Allen–it's an enjoyable experience and it's easy to get sucked into his world of jazz and magic, but it's just not an entirely memorable movie. If you're looking for a diversion from the end of the Summer blockbuster, this will do just fine.

Rating: B+
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Saturday, August 16, 2014

GeekRex Quick Take: Mood Indigo


The Buzz: We haven't seen anything really notable from experimental filmmaker Michel Gondry since perhaps his 1/3 of Tokyo! in 2008 (depending on your opinion on Green Hornet), and this is a full-on French movie, with Audrey Tatou and Romain Duris. When he pulls off his bizarre, practical-effects laden style and uses it in support of a great story–like he did on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–the results are spectacularly singular and eminently re-watchable.

What's Great About This Movie: The style, my god. This is the most Michel Gondry-like Michel Gondry movie; the experimentation is taken to the extreme in a magical world where for a few coins you can be flown anywhere in the city in a cloud, where you can play a 'pianocktail' (a piano that produces a cocktail based on the notes you play), and where love is paramount. From the opening scene with hundreds of people typing on moving typewriters in a weird sort of assembly line to the very end, you'll be absolutely awestruck by the sheer imagination and fun of it all.

What's Not-So-Great About this Movie: On the flip side, that style takes over, and unfortunately the story is extremely thin for it. The ideas are bountiful, but don't necessarily add up to any kind of cohesive theme. The story of two young people falling in love and struggling through tragedy is simple–and there's nothing wrong with that–but there isn't a whole lot else there to ruminate about besides the visual feast.
 
Final Verdict: It's definitely worth a watch for how wonderfully inventive it is, but Gondry didn't quite strike the right balance between form and content with this one for it to have a lasting impression.
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Friday, August 15, 2014

Comics Spotlight Review: Leaving Megalopolis


Megalopolis was the safest city in the nation.  Full of brightly-colored superheroes on crazy adventures, it was like a fantasy-land.  And then... something changed.  After a fight against an otherworldly entity, the sky filled with sulfur, and all the metahumans in the city went crazy.  The nation's safest city, betrayed by its protectors, has become a nightmare for every resident. Leaving Megalopolis, Dark Horse's reprint of Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore's Kickstarter sensation, follows a small group of citizens trying to push through the monsters that now rule the city and escape back into America.

In a way, Leaving Megalopolis feels like the dark side of Kurt Busiek's Astro City, a grim counterpart that similarly strips away the layers of artifice and fantasy we tend to put into superhero stories.  In Astro City, stripping away those layers was often done to reach some mundane, fundamental truth about these characters and their world, to examine love and loss amidst the madness.  In Leaving Megalopolis, abandoning the fantasy forces you to confront some scary ideas about what we crave in our entertainment.  Why do we want these dark, gritty stories about the worst of humanity?  Why do we like to tear down heroes and lionize monsters?  How is it sane to claim that tragedy makes you somehow more heroic?  With Leaving Megalopolis, Gail Simone deconstructs grim 'n gritty.

It wouldn't work without some great characters, and the book is a bit too slim to round out its fairly sizable cast.  Thankfully, Simone crafted a truly fantastic leading lady in Mina, a fairly chilly character largely concerned with her own survival who doesn't so much warm up as give in.  But Simone smartly reveals the origins of the character's distance early on, and it informs everything she does.  Mina is harsh, but she's always sympathetic, and whenever the story threatens to overwhelm the characters, Simone brings the focus back squarely on Mina.  The supporting cast are all given brief moments to shine, and in a longer book I'd love to spend more time with them, but I think Simone made the right choice to keep coming back to Mina

There are aspects of the graphic novel that I think could have used a little more room to breathe, however, particularly when it comes to the villains.  One third act twist in particular would have been vastly more powerful had we known more about the character in question before tragedy struck.  I think Simone and Calafiore wanted to 'borrow' the way we felt about the character's analog from other stories, another trick Busiek had mastered in Astro City, but it didn't quite hit me as hard as it should have.  And artist Jim Calafiore has grown considerably in the last few years, illustrating the human drama and more mundane moments quite well.  But in terms of style and design, he doesn't handle the horror terribly well, tending towards fairly simplistic design and structure.

That said, the story is effective overall, and it feels like one Simone may have needed to tell.  Much has been made in the months since Leaving Megalopolis about Simone's strained relationship with a Batgirl editor who kept trying to push her work grimmer and grittier.  Simone has never shied away from darkness, but past efforts had always tempered that darkness with warmth and comedy in a way Batgirl rarely did.  Leaving Megalopolis feels like a conscious return to form, particularly in its powerful closing pages.  Sometimes, that initial, somewhat goofy bit of comics optimism can save your life.  Sometimes, grim and gritty just... isn't called for.

Leaving Megalopolis isn't perfect, but it will leave you wanting more, and Simone and Calafiore absolutely nail the ending.  As a standalone graphic novel, I'll admit to being a little bit dissatisfied.  While it is superior to similar projects - The Walking Dead springs most immediately to mind, but I think the New 52 Suicide Squad (and the New 52 philosophy in general) is an apt touching point as well - it feels like just a snapshot of a wider, weirder story.  Thankfully, it isn't just a standalone graphic novel, as Simone and Calafiore have announced their intentions to return to it in the future.  Tellingly, I'm already excited to spend more time with Mina and the monsters of Megalopolis.

Grade: B

Leaving Megalopolis was created by Gail Simone and Jim Calafiore, and was initially funded through Kickstarter and self-published.  Dark Horse Comics will be publishing a hardcover reprint of Volume 1 on September 17th, 2014. You can pre-order it here.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review: Rich Hill


Go to school.  Get good grades.  Get a scholarship.  Go to college.  Get an internship.  Turn it into a job.  Wake up early. Exercise. Go to work.  Nine hours, but you stay a little later to get some extra work done, really stand out at your next review.  It doesn't matter where you begin: In America, anyone can better their situation.  It's our national dream, that with integrity and hard work, things will be better for our children than they were for us.  It's baked into the mythology of the nation.

But for a huge segment of the American population, that's all it is: Mythology.  Rich Hill, the new documentary from Tracey Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo, tracks a more common reality.  Rich Hill is a city of fewer than 1,400 people, a small rural area filled with closed shops that has few opportunities to escape its pull for any significant length of time.  Tragos and Palermo, cousins and co-directors, have strong family ties to the area, which may help explain how they got their subjects - three adolescent boys living in poverty and their families - to be so candid, and almost certainly explains the extraordinary level of empathy they have for their subjects.  The film may document extreme poverty, but the film is warm and large-hearted, far from the poverty porn you might expect.

Palermo doubled as the film's cinematographer, and he does some spectacular digital work here.  His shots manage to capture evocative images of small town Americana, the type of things that wouldn't feel out of place in a political ad.  Fireworks, parades, and apple pies, flags waving and kids playing in the fields.  It could be any town in the nation.  But keep that camera rolling, and you'll see those dilapidated houses, half-collapsed but still inhabited.  With the film's complete lack of narration, Palermo's images become even more vital, a striking contrast between the country we want to be and the one we actually are.

This is not enormously new territory, in many respects.  Barbara Kopple's iconic documentary Harlan County, U.S.A. similarly followed the plight of the small-town poor and their struggles to capture the lifestyle they felt they deserved.  And Debra Granik's twisty crime drama Winter's Bone even takes place in the same area of the country, and displays the family-first, don't-trust-the-government Americana dynamic well.  Fans of either work would do well to check out Rich Hill, a more intimate character study that lacks the hook - or the focus - of either of those films, but maintains much of their raw power.

And Rich Hill is powerful, make no mistake.  In particular, 15 year-old Harley, whose story is revealed in bits and pieces as he gets more comfortable, had me shedding a few tears.  Harley's story initially seems simple: A troubled boy fit to bouts of extreme, irrational anger and an unfortunate love of carrying around knives, he lives with his grandmother after his mother is sent to prison.  But nothing is simple, and as the film slowly chips away at Harley's past, we find a deeply wounded boy whose anger (and mistrust of the system) is well-earned, and whose goofy sense of humor is a welcome surprise.

But all three boys have their charms.  Andrew, 14, is an optimistic child. The most well-off of the three to outward appearances, he never lets his circumstances get him down, and he so clearly loves his family, warts and all, that he's impossible to dislike.  In fiction, Andrew would be okay: He has faith, family, and a strong work ethic.  It's not enough, though, as he's saddled by an irresponsible dreamer of a father and a mother whose medication leaves her housebound and dejected.

Appachey, 13 years old and already comfortably hunched over with a smoke and an angry glare, comes from a hard home.  He lives in relative squalor with a mother who can't control him and doesn't show much interest in trying anymore, and a sprawling family too big for their small home.  Appachey has a number of mental health issues, none of which his mother is willing to make him medicate, and his quick temper often lands him in trouble.  But he's also startlingly introspective, a thoughtful kid who wishes for more, even as he knows he probably won't ever find it.  

But even the film's ostensible villains are given moments to sit back and just be human.  Appachey's mother is hard, but she's also someone who has been dealing with an impossible situation since she was too young to really know how.  Harley's mother is in jail, but it's hard not to understand her motives.  Andrew's father wastes money they don't have and forces them to move constantly to avoid bills, but he also clearly adores his son and offers him sound advice.  

Because ultimately, the thesis of Rich Hill is that these are all people.  Good people and bad people, smart people and dumb people, people from stable homes and people who just can't hold everything together anymore, the only thing that links them is that things aren't going to get better any time soon.  When you're bathing in water heated up using an iron and a coffee pot because you had to let the gas bill lapse to keep paying for electricity, going to college seems roughly as feasible as going to Hogwarts.  Life isn't impossible.  Happiness isn't impossible.  Even upward mobility isn't impossible. But when it comes to the American poor, the odds are never in their favor.

Whatever its flaws, Rich Hill is a powerful piece of anti-political humanism.  Because, ultimately, I defy you not to feel, strongly and undeniably, for these kids.  As Richard Linklater did recently in Boyhood, Palermo and Tragos trade focus for intimacy, and while some viewers may find the resulting small-scale vignettes a bit scattered, a bit incomplete, to me it was necessary to capture the rhythms of small town life, the language of adolescence, the lives of these boys.  The meandering pace may not make for a terribly stirring social advocacy doc, but it makes for a helluva time capsule about coming of age down and out in 21st century America.

Grade: A-

For our Atlanta readers, Rich Hill will be coming to the Landmark's Midtown Art Cinema on August 22nd.  It is also currently available to rent streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and more.

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